A pastor wears many hats: shepherd, preacher, teacher, counselor, etc. But one function that is seldom considered as belonging to the pastor is that of a financier. Often regarded as inexperienced or disinterested in finance, ministers are either shunted off or voluntarily relinquish that role. For some pastors the thought of being money-minded or materialistic is just too much to bear. They would rather let someone else handle the finances of the church.
Yet if the church today is to fulfill God's mission, it needs to be financially healthy, and pastors have a pivotal role in achieving this. Sooner or later the pastor will have to face the question: "Am I also the 'minister of finance' of my church? If so, what should my role be in that capacity? How much involvement should I have in this aspect of ministry?"
Jesus has a lot to say about money. About half of His 40 parables use money or possessions to illustrate the lessons He sought to teach. One of the most poignant acts of self-abnegation recorded, one that He Himself called attention to in the Gospels, involved a widow in the act of giving all she had (Luke 21:1-4). Then at the other end of the spectrum there is the story of the wealthy young ruler. He was singled out be cause, having had the opportunity of becoming a disciple, he was unwilling to dispose of his great wealth, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Him (Matt. 19:16-22). Thus, Christ was not reluctant or afraid to deal with the topic of finances, nor call as disciples men who were engaged in that field (Luke 5:27-29). Then should His ministers today be reluctant to get directly involved in promoting the financial health of their churches?
If they should assume such a responsibility, what kind of and how much involvement should that be? Here are some practical suggestions.
- Preach and teach systematic stewardship. "We are already doing this," some would say. But unfortunately many stop there. We need to do much more. Most pastors would agree that a right stewardship relation to God is vital to the believers' and the church body's spiritual growth. But when stewardship preaching is limited to appeals for faithful tithing and liberal offerings, then the pastoral role and influence in this area will begin to diminish; it could even become counterproductive. On the other hand, when pastors emphasize that God's love for us and our continuing love response to Him form the basis for the broad biblical concept of our account ability to God as stewards, of both tangible and intangible possessions, then the pastoral effectiveness and responsibility in this area would be better fulfilled.
- Create the right climate. Preaching stewardship is not enough. Pastors must themselves practice stewardship faithfully and lead out in encouraging a positive attitude toward giving, to ward the church's financial needs, and toward those who are responsible to care for the financial affairs of the church (2 Cor. 8; 9).
For example, pastors can encourage personal testimonies of members who faithfully adhere to the tithing plan and who have felt especially blessed by the Lord for doing so. They can have the church treasurer offer the main prayer during church services. And what about children's participation? Special tithe and offering envelopes can be prepared for them at the same time that they are taught the simple biblical principles of receiving and giving. Children could also be encouraged to go throughout the congregation and collect offerings for special projects, then deposit them in a special place (small replica of the new building, basket, etc.) at the front of the church. Children's participation can help create a positive climate toward giving.
- Know and be interested in church finances. Pastors who acquire a basic and practical knowledge in principles of finance and accounting and show genuine interest in the financial affairs of the church will greatly enhance their influence on the financial affairs of the church. When they speak on the subject, people will listen.
For example, ministers should understand such basic financial concepts and items as: (a) risk vs. return the higher the risk involved in an investment opportunity, the higher the return expected (its implication is most important: a much higher yield [e.g., a higher interest rate] always carries with it an implied higher risk and loss potential); (b) the difference between a budget and a cash-flow projection; (c) depreciation as an expense; (d) financial report terminology; (e) cash basis versus accrual basis of accounting; and (f) the detection of financial strengths and weaknesses through the use of financial statements.
Even if they know these, a responsible pastor will sit down at least once a month with the church treasurer and go over the financial statements, asking questions, and assessing the financial condition of the church.
- Provide leadership during financial crises. A church will sooner or later face at least one major financial crisis. Often this is the time pastors wake up in the middle of the night with such thoughts racing through their mind as "What will happen if we are not able to pay ... ?" Pastors who have conscientiously worked on items 1-3 above should be able to rally the church both from the pulpit and in committee meetings to support what ever alternative the church decides it must take to surmount the crisis. Sometimes a proposed solution may not be easy to carry out. But the members will listen to what the pastor has to say about the finances of the church, and very likely be more inclined to support that proposal because by precept, example, and knowledge the pastor has won their confidence. Knowing that God can bless those who have diligently sought to do their best can help pas tors maintain their confidence in divine assistance and their courage during a time of crisis.
But we need not wait until that crisis. Now is the time for ministers to prepare not only to relate successfully to times of financial crisis, but to understand the day-to-day financial affairs of his church. A pastor need not become a financial expert, but he or she is the "minister of finance" of the congregation, the one to whom the congregation looks to bring a spiritual dimension and balance to the financial affairs of the church.
While pastors are not to encumber themselves with the more mechanical and detailed aspects of church accounting and finances, they need, nevertheless, to learn, encourage, and bring balance and spiritual tone to this very important area of ecclesiastical endeavors, thus giving overall pastoral financial leadership to the church.